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Reflection on My First Interview

This blog post was written by SOHP Intern Holly Plouff.

HollyI recently conducted my first professional interview for the Southern Oral History Program, and unfortunately, I learned a lot about this daunting process the hard way. It’s okay though. We learn by trial and error and I have emerged from this process with some good tips that I would like to list for future interviewers:

  1. Don’t set your interview date around a time when there is ANY chance of snow- This was my main problem. Of course we can’t control the weather but it would have been super nice if the heavy snow that fell, just two days before my interview, actually melted. Instead, the snow decided to cling to the ground and because of this, I was not able to travel to my interviewee’s house in Raleigh. Luckily, we live in the 21st century so we resorted to conducting the interview via landline on speakerphone…which leads me to tip #2
  2. Don’t conduct your interview over the phone- Just like the weather, this often can’t be controlled. People live far away, you can’t always get to see them in person, but if you are able to meet in person, then do. The phone led to problems like lower sound quality, echoes from the speakerphone, and lack of visual cues. Is my interviewee thinking about a question or did we lose the connection? Does she have something else to say or is she waiting for me to ask my next question? Is she getting impatient and waiting for me to wrap this up? These were some of the many questions that I asked myself as I sat in an empty room on the phone. I felt awkward about not being able to speak face to face with someone who I had learned so much about, I wanted her to know that I was present and paying attention, which would have been easy to do if we were in the same room but we weren’t so I resorted to showing my presence by making noise…
  3. Talk/make noise as little as possible- The interview isn’t about you. It’s about this endlessly fascinating person and you’re just a lowly intern. I knew that I was supposed to be a quiet part of this process, only speaking when asking questions or prodding, but because I couldn’t see my interviewee, I did things like chuckle, say “mhmm,” and audibly agree with points. Hopefully this isn’t too noticeable to people in the future who may have to use my interview for research, but it meant that I got to hear my various noises and affirmations while editing and writing about the interview. There would be a nice anecdote, a good flow, and then my horrible chuckle. I don’t regret this sin as much because it actually did help to prove that I was present, it’s just not fun to hear yourself on a recording over and over again when you’re working on edits and writing the tape log.

Don’t let my negativity affect your outlook on the interview process. I had a great time and learned more than just what not to do. Unfortunately these circumstances couldn’t be controlled but I couldn’t have asked for a more understanding and eager interviewee. I look forward to my next interview because the chances of snow are now minuscule so I have hope for a more personal and pleasant experience.

Holly Plouff
SOHP Communications intern
Class of 2018